Thank you for writing in about this, Ayurveda treatments begin with gut health. Our ability to properly digest our food and experiences is paramount in Ayurveda. In life in general, we neither want to hold on too tightly, nor push away too sternly. Our tendency in either direction is reflected in our bowel movements.
The Three Doshas of Ayurveda and Their Qualities
There are three doshas in Ayurveda – vata, pitta, and kapha – each with different qualities. We define a person’s constitution by means of these three doshas. Each person has a dominant dosha and subsidiary ones. Their unique combination tells of their body type, how their mind will work, and what kind of digestion they will have.
Vata is made of ether and air, so it is dry and cold. It is brittle and airy, there will likely be anxiety, and waves of worry and depression as well as spurts of energy and creativity, it is the most changeable of all the doshas and its bowel movements tend to be as irregular, with a tendency towards constipation and hard stools.
Pitta is fire and a little water, it is the dosha of transformation and heat, it is passion and anger, its evacuation is usually fast and watery, with a tendency towards loose and hot stools.
Kapha is earth and water, and is the most steady and reliable of the doshas, it tends towards lethargy, sleeping and over-indulgence, and its bowel movements are regular but on the larger side; slow, steady and heavy is the name of the kapha game.
The three stages of human life in Ayurveda
In Ayurveda a human life can be split into three stages – childhood, middle age and older age. Each life stage is characterised by a dosha. Childhood (birth – puberty) is defined by kapha, this is why children tend to be snotty and have coughs; middle age (puberty – 55ish) is the pitta time, it is when they are passionate and learning, the fire of life is burning brightly; older age is when vata takes over, things are becoming more brittle and irregular, joints are creaking, sleep can be inconsistent.
And What Can be Done to Help With Chronic Constipation in Older Age?
It is not therefore surprising that someone at the age of 92 will have dryness in their bowels and a tendency towards chronic constipation, it is the time of their life for this. So what can be done about it?
- Cut out cold water and cold drinks, only drink warm drinks, or at least room temperature drinks (vata is cold, and it needs warmth to balance it), and one’s system doesn’t need the added shock of cold water, when it is already working hard.
- Have a large mug of warm water first thing in the morning, each morning, to get the gut going and warmed up, this should initiate the process of metabolism for the day ahead.
- Add some warming spices to warm water, such as dry ginger, and sip throughout the day.
- Sipping fresh ginger water throughout the day. Boil up ginger in water in the morning, and sip on it slowly throughout the day, make sure the water is always warm!
- Take 1/2 teaspoon of Trikatu with the first few bites of food before lunch and dinner. There is a beautiful Ayurvedic triptych of herbs called trikatu (that contains dry ginger, black pepper and long pepper / pippali). It can be used before meals to help kindle the digestive fire and get the system ready for the food that is coming. (This should not be taken all the time, especially if there are any pitta imbalances, but can be used for a week intermittently).
- Dryness in the colon is often mirrored by dryness in the lungs. The gut and lungs are deeply interrelated, they both take-in what they need from the outside before converting them into life force energy for the body. Moistening medicines that treat the lungs and gut include: flax seeds (which you need to have with plenty of warm water, as they use moisture as they metabolise, so you don’t want them further drying out the gut if you take them on their own), and liquorice, which you can have in the form of tea, or chewing on some liquorice as a sweet treat.
- Soaked dried fruits that act as gentle laxatives, through their bulking and moistening qualities, such as: soaked raisins and soaked prunes, eat these on their own before breakfast or lunch.
- Lubricating fats: such as having a teaspoon of Ghruta or ghee, followed by a mug of hot goat’s milk with a little cardamom crushed in it, have this first thing in the morning, and wait for bowel moments.
- When one is older, we might need to be a little careful with the types of fibre we take, as we don’t want large bits of roughage getting stuck in the gut, so I suggest gentle bulking fibres that act as soft laxatives too, such as: bran and psyllium husk, again these need to be taken with warm liquid, so they do not soak up the liquids that the gut needs for proper peristalsis.
- Talking of peristalsis: colon massage! This can be done on oneself, or by another, in the direction of travel in the colon, a little warm sesame oil can be used to help with the massage. Massage from the right iliac region up the right lumbar, over the naval and umbilical region, towards the left lumbar and down towards the left lilac region (this is the direction of travel of food) it can help promote movement and digestion.
- Oil…. My favourite thing. It is the opposite in quality to dry, cold and brittle (vata). So I suggest adding oils to food after cooking. For example you could put some raw cold pressed sesame oil or extra virgin olive oil on to dhal and rice before eating it. It is beautiful if we can use oils that are uncooked / unheated – and therefore unadulterated – so we don’t undermine their properties.
- Don’t overeat! When one is constipated, one should think about what is backing up in the system, and what is being piled on top to join the queue. It is a bit of a rule in Ayurveda to not eat more til we know our previous meals have been digested. So do bear this in mind.
by Selina Van Orden